ABOUT ERIK GONZALEZ
Not long after the Indians traded for outfield Jordan Luplow, I called Neal Huntington.
“This could be a trade where both teams look up in a few years and feel very good about it,” he said.
Huntington is the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Chris Antonetti is the president of the Tribe. The two men have a long history. When Huntington was with the old Montreal Expos, he hired Antonetti as an intern with the team in 1997.
When Huntington moved to the Indians, he pushed general manager Mark Shapiro to hire Antonetti in 1999.
Huntington has been Pittsburgh’s general manager since the end of the 2007 season.
The two men had been talking trade on-and-off for months.
Finally, Huntington sent infielder Max Moroff and Luplow to the Tribe for shortstop Erik Gonzalez and young pitchers Tahnaj Thomas and Dante Mendoza.
“We need a shortstop,” said Huntington. “Gonzalez is good defensively. He showed last season he could play multiple positions. We like him.”
Pittsburgh’s starting shortstop Jordy Mercer is heading to free agency. The Pirates had a $94 million payroll (compared to $135 million for the Tribe). Neither team is going to be active when it comes to signing significant free agents.
Gonzalez spent the entire season with the Tribe, batting .265 (.676 OPS) with one HR and 10 RBI in 136 at bats.
He is out of minor league options. There is no place for him as a regular with the Tribe, as they have Jose Ramirez at second and Francisco Lindor at shortstop.
Gonzalez is 27. It’s time for him to find out if he can be a regular at the big league level. He’ll compete with 25-year-old prospect Kevin Newman to start at short for the Pirates.
Newman batted .209 in 91 at bats for the Pirates last season. He did hit .302 with four HR and 35 RBI in Class AAA.
ABOUT JORDAN LUPLOW
The real reason I called Huntington was to find out about Luplow, the 25-year-old outfielder coming to the Tribe.
He was the Pirates’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2017.
In parts of two Class AAA seasons (2017-18), Luplow batted .300 (.857 OPS) with 32 doubles, 15 HR, 68 RBI in 539 plate appearances. He was 11-of-14 in stolen bases.
But in two partial years in Pittsburgh covering 190 plate appearances, Luplow batted .194 (.644 OPS) with six HR and 18 RBI.
“He has good raw power,” said Huntington. “He can hit a fastball. He can do real damage against left-handed pitching, and I think he’ll be competitive against right-handers. We still like him as a player.”
So why trade him?
“We have a real need at shortstop,” said Huntington.
He explained the Pirates have more depth in the outfield.
Meanwhile, the Indians have several middle infielders and desperately need an outfielder. It why Huntington and the Tribe could find common ground for a deal.
“He’s a right-handed hitting outfielder… capable of playing all three outfield spots,” said Antonetti. “He’s spent most of his time in left and right and we also believe he has the ability to play center field. He fits our team really well.”
So what happened to Luplow between Class AAA and the minors?
“A lot of young players have trouble adjusting to the majors when they play only part-time,” said Huntington.
Huntington’s point was the Pirates never gave Luplow a defined role because of the talent in front of him.
The Pirates’ outfield in 2018 was Corey Dickerson (.300, 13 HR, 55 RBI, .804 OPS), Gregory Polanco (.254, 23 HR, 81 RBI, .839 OPS) and Starling Marte (.277, 20 HR, 72 RBI, .787 OPS).
THE SCOUTING REPORT
Huntington called Luplow “a hard-worker, a solid defender with a good arm. He has some power. He just needs a chance to play.”
The Indians and Pirates both consider Luplow a much better hitter vs. lefties.
But in Class AAA, he was nearly the same:
.299 vs. lefties.
.301 vs. righties.
My guess is Luplow fits into the Tribe as a right-fielder. The right-handed batter can platoon with Tyler Naquin.
It’s Brandon Guyer’s old job.
A real problem was Guyer being nearly helpless (.174) vs. righties last season. And he no longer crushed lefties (.233). He is a free agent.
Baseball America on Luplow: “He lacks huge tools, but does a lot of little things well. He is a contact hitter with a good feel for the barrel…quick hands and the pitch recognition to get on base. He’s not a burner, but is a smart baserunner who takes the extra base with his savvy. Luplow can ably play both corner outfield spots and cover center in a pinch. His plus arm plays anywhere.”
ABOUT THE INDIANS
1. Some veteran Tribe fans were wondering if Jordan Luplow is any relation to former Tribe outfielder Al Luplow (1961-65). The answer is…yes. Al Luplow was his great-uncle. He died in 2017. Al Luplow batted .235 (.662 OPS) in parts of seven big league seasons.
2. The Indians also acquired 25-year-old Max Moroff in the deal. He is mostly a second and third baseman. He can play some short. In 84 big league games, Moroff batted .193 (.625 OPS) with six HR and 30 RBI in 209 plate appearances over parts of three seasons.
3. Huntington told me Moroff “has some real power.” But he struck out 69 times in those 209 plate appearances. Moroff is out of minor league options. He could make the Tribe as a utility man.
4. Baseball America on Moroff: “He has made cameos in the majors each of the last three seasons, working at second base, shortstop and third base as a Pirates depth infielder. He doesn’t offer much with the bat as a career .252 hitter in the minors and .193 hitter in the majors. He can plug in as a switch-hitter with defensive versatility.”
5. The Indians were willing to give up Gonzalez because they have Yu Chang in the minors, where he batted .256 (.741 OPS) with 13 HR and 62 RBI. Chang is only 23 years old. The native of Taiwan has been the target of trade talks. He was in the 2016 deal to Milwaukee for Jonathan Lucroy. That trade fell part when Lucroy used his no-trade option.
6. The Yankees also pushed hard for Chang when they made the Andrew Miller deal with the Tribe in 2016. The Indians sent Justus Sheffield, Clint Frazier, J.P. Feyereisen and Ben Heller to New York in that trade.
7. As for the Lucroy deal, the Indians were supposed to send Greg Allen, Francisco Mejia, Shawn Armstrong and Chang to the Brewers. The Indians have since used Mejia to deal for relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber. Allen will compete with Leonys Martin to start in center field in 2019.
8. Chang is having a terrific Arizona Fall League, batting .337 (.919 OPS) with four HR and 17 RBI in 86 at bats. He’ll probably open 2019 at Class AAA, but the Indians do project him as a starter somewhere in the field in the future.
9. After Gonzalez, the prospect most intriguing to the Pirates is 19-year-old Tahnaj Thomas. The Bahamas native pitched only 20 innings in the Arizona Rookie League. MLB.com ranked him the No. 30 prospect in the Tribe farm system. He was signed as an infielder and converted to a pitcher.
10, The Indians are still looking for outfielders. But they are in better shape now than before the trade. Luplow has been highly regarded and probably can adapt to the big leagues at least as an extra outfielder if given a chance.